Havoc In Motion
By Jay White
Grampaw Bailey and the Tupelo Mule
In the year 1926, my mama’s daddy, Silas Beauchamp Bailey, ran a small farm in southeastern Mississippi, which acreage he cropped for shares. He kept the place in perfect order and raised cotton on it and children—fifteen of them. Mama was the youngest. Grampaw Bailey enjoyed a further distinction thereabout in those days: he owned the Tupelo Mule.
Perhaps from time to time in your life you have had occasion to witness mules considered not altogether attractive? The Tupelo Mule was a bona fide pseudo-equine nightmare. Her hide, of several hideous colors, appeared to have been stretched over the skeletal-structure of a giraffe: the neck, long as a man, was topped by a lopsided, watermelon-like head provided by Unrepentant Evolution with the saw-like teeth of a prehistoric saurian and the vast ears of a Jurassic aardvark; and complimenting the ghastliness of her purely physical presence were its psychological aspects—she enjoyed the disposition of a Mississippi River-bottom snapping turtle and was blind in one eye and deaf as a stump.
Now, an ordinary mule can kick in any direction with any of its four legs in sequence. The Tupelo Mule could do so with all four legs simultaneously and strike like a rattlesnake at the same time, and she would do so on any occasion that she sensed an entity of whatever description in violation of her security zone—an area that on odd occasions encompassed between three or four feet and the whole of Jackson County.
As mentioned earlier, Grampaw sired fifteen children—seven of them girls: Inell, Mildred, Eva, Ava, Annie, Fannie, and Opal (Mama) who was fourteen at that time; all her sisters had been married off the place in their turn, and Mama, the prettiest of them all, became the object of intense interest among the bachelors of Jackson and several surrounding counties. But it did them little good. Grampaw wasn’t ready for his youngest chick to be snatched from the nest, and said so. But they came around anyway. Finally, one of them, Jeeter Potts, a notable smart aleck around town and scion of an antebellum cotton plantation fortune, made such a nuisance of himself that, at last, Grampaw agreed to permit him to spark Mama if he could do so from the back of the Tupelo Mule.
“Where is this animal?”
The Tupelo Mule stood on a small bluff over Cedar Creek, head down, affecting an easy doze.
“Good Lord!” Jeeter exclaimed, “Is that thing alive?” He looked at Grampaw as if he didn’t think the old man could possibly be serious, or if he was he could not imagine what his motive might be. “Mr. Bailey, I don’t know if you are aware of it, but I was raised on horseback. Why, I have broken thoroughbred stallions to the saddle.”
“Well, son,” Grampaw said, “I don’t believe you can stay on that beast, but you’re going to have to if you want to come visiting my daughter.”
“Then, let’s get at it,” Jeeter said, and stepped off toward the object of his derision. “Better stand back away, Mr. Bailey,” Jeeter suggested solicitously when they arrived. “Things are about to get pu-ritty frantic around here.” Then, with the easy confidence of arrogant youth, he stepped to the Tupelo Mule and settled himself defensively into the concavity of her back as if he didn’t really expect much to happen. And nothing did. He kicked her in the ribs. Nothing happened. He slapped her ears and cussed her; then he leaned back and regarded Grampaw with a sneer. “Hell, old man, there ain’t no buck in this broken down jenny.”
“I didn’t say nothing about bucking,” Grampaw told him. “I said you couldn’t stay on her.” At that, as if on cue, she reached around and grabbed Jeeter Potts by the top of his head, raised him off her back and flung him flailing into the creek—all of him, that is, except the top of his scalp.
The Tupelo Mule had tonsured him. The operation could not have been achieved more cleanly with a straight razor.
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